Cowboys in Chicago





I was watching a History Channel documentary the other night on the Chicago Union Stock Yards.

In 1848, when Chicago was only a hub for transporting livestock from the West to the rest of the country, small stockyards such as Lake Shore Yard and Cottage Grove Yard, were scattered throughout the city along various rail lines.

As the railroads expanded westward, Chicago evolved into a large railroad center. With the increase in the number of trainloads of livestock, the chicago-union_stock_yard_gate1need for a centralized stock center became obvious.

In 1864, a consortium of nine railroad companies acquired three hundred and twenty acres of swampland south west of The Loop, and the Chicago Union Stock Yards was born.

By 1890 the yards were handling more than nine million cows, pigs and sheep a year. That’s a lot of hooves!

But I wantechicago_union_stock_yards-pens_1866d to know who took care of all those critters.

Before the creation of the stock yards, tavern owners provided pastures and care for cattle herds waiting to be sold. Eventually they built 2300 livestock pens on the 375-acre site.

[They also built hotels, saloons, restaurants, and offices for merchants and brokers, but that’s another blog.]

My next question: who moved all those animals around? I had visions of cowboys working in downtcowboy-and-bearown Chicago.  [No, not THAT kind of Cowboy!]

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a storyline there, after all. The cowboys only moved the doggies as far as Dodge City, Kansas City, and all the other termini of the cattle drives.

In the early days of the Stock Yard, drovers herded cattle, hogs, and sheep down two wide thoroughfares from the railroad cars to the pens. Then the railroad consortium built more rail lines, bringing the livestock right to the holding pens—and removing the need for the drovers.

 It’s a shamecow-on-parade_belle really. A thousand head of longhorns mooing their way down Michigan Avenue ahead of a couple of heart-stopping cowboys would have been entertaining.


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12 thoughts on “Cowboys in Chicago”

  1. Omaha has a huge area that was formerly a stock yard. Denver’s is gigantic and is now the site of the Midwest Livestock Show. My husband goes every year and somehow, though it’s not used as a stock yards anymore, the whole area is still there.

  2. The only reason Chicago became the center yard is because all the railroads hubbed there. It still seems to me an odd place for a stockyard, but at that time it wasn’t a glass and steel city like it is now.

  3. Stacey, interesting blog! I knew they shipped all those longhorn to places like Chicago and beyond, but never really thought about how they got them there after they left Dodge City and other railheads. I’ll bet those stockyards were huge. The History Channel sure has some good stuff sometimes.

  4. Wow, Tracy, what an informative blog. I love it! I so love history — but I tend to read research of the times I’m writing about — if only cause it gives me a flavor of the time — interestingly, I parted ways with the history channel when it altered actual history of the American Revolution — it was on a DVD called THE WAR THAT MADE AMERICA — and it had such altered history, when I found out the truth, it made me laugh.

    They said in the “documentary” that George Washington was responsible for starting the tensions between England and France and caused the French and Indian war.

    At first I bought it, but then when I was doing research on the time period, I discovered that the war between France and England was going on LONG before George Washington ever came on the scene.

    Shame on those “historicans” for distributing lies.

    Anyways, I loved this blog.

  5. Hi Tracy – my thoughts turned to the movie, Australia (I think it was the one) where herds of cattle made their way to and from ships on long, long thorough fares down the wharf to the pens. I thought it fascinating. Also we visited the Ft. Worth stockyards during RWA one year and that was fun to see those one-time pens. They brought the “cattle” down thru the town for the tourists with drovers. Even more fun!

  6. Jennie, when there’s nothing else of interest on TV, I can usually count on the History Channel to at least entertain.

    Did any of you get to see the “Cows on Parade” in Chicago, oh about 10 years ago, now? That’s where the last pic I used came from. In honor of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, they had all these cow statues spread around the city. They were painted by groups, schools, artists, cities, etc. Lots of fun.

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